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Ballinderry GAA club is also my family: Daniel McKinless

Player hails Derry side's will to win

by Declan Bogue

Back at the presentation night when the Ballinderry Shamrocks players were being honoured for their feat in winning three Derry Championships in a row, medals weren't the only thing handed out.

The youth players were all handed wristbands, blue and white naturally, with the message 'three-in-a-row'. Daniel McKinless is already known for his extensive collection of wristbands, so when Conleith Gilligan's boy Adam offered him one of his two after they beat Clonoe of Tyrone in the Ulster club Championship preliminary round, he felt he, "was more than obliged to take one off him!"

He goes on to remind you that it is a nice thing to have, a reminder of the past in future years and a big chunk of the living history of the club, as they gear up for Sunday's Ulster club final against Glenswilly. Even the lads who won the All-Ireland club title of 2002, he says, held the men of the early '80s in reverence for achieving a three-in-a-row.

When they come to revising the club history, it will be littered with references to the McKinless family. With the present senior team Daniel is a tireless wing-forward, the son of team manager Martin, while brother Gareth is the impressive centre-back seemingly destined for a long career with the county team.

Playing for their father, however, would be rated as the opposite of a leg-up, claims Daniel.

"I would consider him harder on us, with Gareth and I. When he said he was going in to take the senior team, you were going to have to score 2-10 in a reserve game to get five minutes with the seniors!

"But we wouldn't have it any other way now. Now that I have broken into the team, there are no guarantees that I will stay there. You know you have earned it and that you're not just there because your dad is the manager. If you don't perform on a day you have to tough it out."

To illustrate the point, McKinless informs us that he was on the team of 2011 that won a Derry title, before barely getting a game throughout the 2012 campaign.

This year he has nailed his place, but is far from complacent, saying, "We have such a big panel, over 30 boys there, and any one of them could play an Ulster club game and none of them would look out of place."

He reminds you that they were in big trouble a few weeks back before Darren Conway – "a huge presence in the squad and the changing room" – came on and nabbed a goal, and casts his mind back to when Conway and his peers were at his stage of life, winning an All-Ireland in Semple Stadium.

"I can recall being thrown over the fence at the top of the gates at Thurles by the oul boy!

"To grow up and play on a team for him and play with those boys has been phenomenal, names that are known all over Ireland. It was a big thing for me.

"I was one of the lucky ones that got into the dressing room when you still had the likes of Ronan McGuckin and Gerard Cassidy knocking about. There was Enda Muldoon, Conleith Gilligan and Mickey C and it was massive for me, coming into the changing room."

A couple of weeks ago, some of those veterans relayed their experiences of first coming on the scene. Back then you picked a quiet spot on the bench, togged out, kept the head down and the mouth shut.

Developments such as Twitter have torn down some of the social barriers between the generations of players. And McKinless reminds us that you have to grow up fast in that scenario anyway when he says, "You soon realise you are in senior football when you are in training and you are doing a tackling drill against Ronan McGuckin!"

Speaking of McGuckin, he is one of the many illustrious past players who are immersed in youth coaching on Sunday mornings, along with Enda Muldoon and others.

When McKinless was coming through the ranks, he had Niall Conway, Killian Conlan and Paul McIver showing him the ropes at various stages. All are recognised as serious operators and it is a credit to the club how they can nurture such coaching talent. The reason for that is pretty simple, says McKinless.

"Football in Ballinderry is like religion. It really is, everybody eats, sleeps and breathes it. You wouldn't believe how important to the community it is, unless you are part of it. Everybody is looking to get involved especially when we are doing so well."

And who wouldn't want to be involved in a day like Sunday?

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